Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’ Manakamana isn’t a film for everyone. Labelled as experimental, it comes with the territory that this isn’t your average doc with an identifiable beginning, middle, and end. Instead Manakamana is something you’ve never seen before, and that’s why it’s worth watching.
You could look at this documentary as a two hour-long experience, but it’s actually split up into eleven 10-minute segments. Why ten minutes? Because that’s the amount of time it takes for cable cars to travel to the ancient Nepalese temple Manakamana. It’s also the exact amount of time the directors could film their subjects with 16mm film. Convenient.
In these vignettes, you are inside these temple-bound bubbles and face-to-face with one person, group of people, or collection of goats for ten uninterrupted minutes. Sometimes, characters sit in silence, staring at the surrounding scenery, and others are tourists taking selfies, eager to get to the temple. In my experience, I found the film a lot more enjoyable piece by piece, watching one segment on its own and then returning later (sometimes days later) to watch another.
This documentary is the very embodiment of experimental, and that can be hit or miss for a lot of people. For example, I can love this film and in the next moment completely miss the point of films like Leviathan, which was also developed by the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University.
It’s a polarising film and a challenge to be sure. Critics love its simplicity, but I’ve also heard the film described as a “borefest.” Either way, you can make your own decision as you can now watch Manakamana on Netflix. [Netflix]